BERLIN — The prospect of gas shortages this winter has sparked a fight over nuclear power within Germany’s coalition government.
Chancellor Olaf Scholz’s Social Democrats (SPD) and traditionally anti-nuclear Economic and Climate Greens Robert Habeck oppose any postponement of the planned shutdown of Germany’s three remaining nuclear power plants by the end of This year. Yet the Free Democratic Liberals (FDP), also part of Scholz’s coalition, have joined the conservative opposition in calling for such a delay.
Christian Dürr, leader of the FDP group in parliament, explained why in a Tweeter Tuesday: “Putin remains unpredictable. We must take precautions: stop producing electricity from gas, extend the life of nuclear power plants and examine the production of gas in the North Sea.
“A secure supply is the top priority,” he added. “We have to exhaust all possibilities for this. Anyone who talks about cold showers and warm sweaters in recent weeks misunderstands the seriousness of the situation.”
Germany’s dependence on Russian gas imports has made it vulnerable to pressure from the Kremlin. Russia has threatened to turn off the tap and the closure of the key Nord Stream pipeline for maintenance this week has heightened fears of a winter fuel crisis.
Dürr’s mention of cold showers was a blow to Habeck, who braced the Germans for sacrifices in the cold months ahead, suggesting they take shorter hot showers and heat fewer rooms.
The leader of Dürr’s party, Finance Minister Christian Lindner, has been arguing for weeks that it should not be “categorically ruled out” to keep Germany’s nuclear power plants running for a bit longer. He suggests that the Greens’ opposition to the idea is ideological and should be dismissed given the new realities of Moscow’s energy blackmail.
“Given the current situation, we must adopt a pragmatic and not an ideological view,” agreed FDP MP Marie-Agnes Strack-Zimmermann, a leading voice on the war in Ukraine. “We know that the [nuclear] the factories will not run forever but just then, when it comes to providing the population with the energy they need, one should not be ideological.”
Germany closed three of its six nuclear power plants last year and is expected to shut down the remaining trio by the end of 2022. This is in line with Chancellor Angela Merkel’s decision to phase out nuclear power at the following the 2011 accident in Fukushima, Japan. plant.
Friedrich Merz, leader of the Christian Democratic opposition (CDU) exploits the flaws in the energy policy within the coalition. “We need energy! Some SPD and FDP colleagues also see it that way, but it fails because of the Greens,” he said. said on television last week.
To put it more bluntly, Alexander Dobrindt, parliamentary leader of the Bavarian sister party CDU, lumped the Greens in with Russian President Vladimir Putin, accusing them of deliberately endangering Germany’s prosperity. “Putin is cutting off gas to Germany and the Greens are cutting off nuclear power. This is practically causing a blackout in the winter,” the Christian Social Union (CSU) lawmaker told German media this week.
It is complicated
The question is not so simple, say the economists.
“It looks like a fake debate,” said Jens Südekum, professor of international economics at Heinrich Heine University in Düsseldorf and adviser to the Ministry of Economy and Climate.
“The figures tell us that only 16% of the gas has so far been used for power generation, while process heat [used in industrial production] and the heating counts for more than 80%, and that’s where the game is decided,” Südekum said. “Nuclear power plants won’t help us there, because you can’t heat with them.
Habeck echoed that assessment on Tuesday: Germany has “a heating problem, not an electricity problem,” he said during a trip to Vienna.
Claudia Kemfert, an energy economist at the German Institute for Economic Research, gave four reasons why nuclear power cannot come to Germany’s rescue if Putin cuts the gas.
“First, the plant licenses have expired – you should amend the Atomic Energy Act to extend them. This is not feasible in the short time available,” she said. “Secondly, safety inspections were suspended in 2019 on the grounds that the plants will be taken off the grid at the end of the year. They would therefore have to be tested again, which is also not possible in this rush. “
Thirdly, it would be necessary to buy fuel for the reactors, which would take more time and, more importantly, “nuclear power plants produce 6% of the electricity and, according to various studies, can only replace 1% of the consumption of gas,” Kemfert concluded.
Such worries won’t stop the opposition — and parts of government — from keeping the nuclear debate alive.
“We should not deprive ourselves of the opportunity to operate our nuclear power plants in order to save gas in electricity production,” said opposition leader Merz. said this week. “I say: bite the bullet, dear Greens… Do it for Germany!”
Hans von der Burchard contributed reporting.
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